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Mon Aug 2nd 2021

Top Positional Battles To Watch In Camp

All 32 training camps are underway! What a joy to have training camps, beat reports, and preseason games this year. The Hall of Fame game is this Thursday, which means we get to watch real football this week and the rest of this month before our dynasty seasons kick off in just over a month.

There are several training camp battles that I'm most invested in watching this preseason to determine which back-end players I'll keep or drop come the roster-cut date in September. In this article, I comment on the situations and players I'm most interested in watching during training camp and preseason games.

Los Angeles Chargers Running Backs

  • I'm eager to see which running back will win the RB-2 role on the Chargers. Austin Ekeler will be the star of the show, but I believe the Chargers are best served by limiting his touches. Ekeler will still produce as an RB-1 with limited touches because of his heavy use in the passing game and his ability to score from a long distance. Ekeler's problem is that he's not been efficient scoring with carries from inside the five-yard line. Joshua Kelley and Kalen Ballage had more carries inside the five-yard line than Ekeler did last year. Ekeler was injured for six games in the middle of the season, but even when he was healthy, the Chargers preferred to use their bigger backs on the goalline. I believe they will do so again, giving whoever wins the RB-2 position in LA a chance to contribute to fantasy rosters, especially if Ekeler misses time again this year. Kalen Ballage came out of nowhere last year when Ekeler was hurt and became a very startable player. Ballage, as since moved on to Pittsburg, which causes me to place my bet on Joshua Kelley to win the job even though I have seen experienced dynasty managers draft Larry Rountree ahead of Kelley many times this offseason. Rumors circulated a few weeks ago that Justin Jackson is the running back most likely to get cut by the Chargers, but he's a competent back who had spurts of fantasy relevance when Ekeler and Melvin Gordon were injured. Kelley and Rountree have the most draft capital, being drafted in the fourth round in back-to-back years. As a result, I believe the battle will be between the two of them ahead of Justin Jackson, drafted in the seventh round three years ago. Hopefully, the Chargers will make clear this preseason which running back stands ahead of the others to back up Ekeler.

Atlanta Running Backs

  • One of the biggest surprises of the NFL draft was the Falcons not drafting a running back. As a result, Mike Davis's dynasty value rose significantly after the draft, but question marks attached to the other running backs on the team. The Falcons signed the small but highly explosive Javian Hawkins as an undrafted free agent. He's been a late-round target of mine and many other dynasty managers in rookie drafts because of the juice he can bring to the team if he can earn a role. He had more breakaway runs in college than did any of the other running backs in the 2020 rookie class. While dynasty managers have been intrigued by his upside in Atlanta, Qadree Ollison has been a forgotten man, even though he was drafted in the fifth round by Atlanta two years ago. I have not forgotten about Ollison. In fact, I have picked him up in several leagues this offseason. I loved his college tape and had him as one of my late-round targets in rookie drafts last year, even though the Falcons signed Todd Gurley in free agency. He did not get a fair chance to prove himself, but he could quickly become the RB-2 in Atlanta this year. Ollison can't fill the change-of-pace role that Hawkins can, but he could become the clear backup to Davis. Hawkins can't become the pure backup to Davis because of his size, but he can hold a steady role in the offense if he impresses this preseason. I have many Ollison and Hawkins shares on my teams, and I'm eager to see what each can prove this preseason.

Los Angeles Rams Running Backs

  • A week ago, the Cam Akers injury was the first significant injury to send shockwaves through the dynasty community. Darrell Henderson has the number one running back job back after relinquishing it to Akers at the end of last season. Henderson has proven that he can have big fantasy scoring weeks, but the coaching staff in LA obviously does not believe he can carry the workload. While he'll be the unquestioned RB-1 for the Rams, the man who wins the backup role will have a chance to be relevant, too, especially since Henderson has not proven that he can stay healthy for a whole season. Xavier Jones and Jake Funk were the two most added players to dynasty rosters over the last week. I saw Funk picked ahead of Jones on the waiver wire and have seen Jones picked ahead of Funk too. Now their new dynasty managers get to watch the preseason games and camp reports to see which one wins the RB-2 battle. Both players were thought to play special teams roles with the team, but now one will do much more than that. Even though Funk was drafted this year and Jones was not drafted a year ago, Jones had far better college stats. My bets are firmly behind Jones to win the backup job behind Henderson. I picked up Jones in several leagues and am eager to see him play in the preseason. I think it will be evident by game one which of these players will get 100 or more touches this year for the Rams. That is unless the Rams sign a free agent because neither Jones nor Funk has what it takes.

Houston Wide Receivers

  • What matters most in Houston is who will be throwing passes to the wide receivers. If Deshaun Watson is allowed to play for the Texans this year and not traded, this wide receiver corps is going to pop with value. If Tyrod Taylor is Houston's starter this year, there is still hidden value on the team. Brandin Cooks will be the top target in Houston this year. I am sure of that. The WR-2 and WR-3 roles are entirely up in the air, mainly after Randall Cobb was traded to Green Bay. Anthony Miller was traded to Houston last week. I've since added him to a few of my teams because the window is wide open for him to rebound from the mediocre start to his career in Chicago. Miller was one of my favorites wide receivers in his rookie class, but he's not lived up to my expectations. It's recently become known that he was one of the least hard-working players in Chicago, and his attitude was a big part of his falling out in Chicago. Hopefully, a new environment and second chance will wake him up. If so, he's by far the second most talented wide receiver on the team. I picked him up in several leagues already. At the end of last year, I added a lot of shares of Keke Coutee, and while he's been on the bubble of my rosters, I have yet to cut him in any of my leagues because of the opportunity he has in this crowded wide receiver room. The Texans drafted Nico Collins in the third round of this year's draft, which called Coutee's dynasty value to question. Contrary to some dynasty analysts, I am not high on Collins. He's routinely drafted one or two rounds ahead of where I would draft him in rookie drafts. His draft capital demands that he get the first shot at becoming the WR-2 in Houston, but I am not sure that he's better than Coutee, and I am positive he's not better than Miller if he can get his head straight. There is a lot of intrigue around this wide receiver corp. I'm holding every asset I have and watching with a close eye this preseason because Coutee and Miller are on the roster bubble on all of my teams.

Detroit Wide Receivers

  • Detroit is flat out starting over at wide receiver, which I don't believe I have ever seen before. Second-year man, Quintez Cephus, is the only returning wide receiver that has a chance to be a starter next year. Cephus will compete with a fourth-round draft pick, Amon-Ra St. Brown, and free-agent signees Tyrel Williams and Breshad Perriman for starting roles in a new offense commandeered by their new quarterback, Jared Goff. The Lions have one of the muddiest wide receiver corps I have ever seen. It's unclear who the top targeted receivers will be from one to four. This fact fuels the expectation that T.J. Hockenson will be the top targeted pass catcher in Detroit. While I'd love to see roster and role clarity this preseason, I don't expect to see much. I'll watch to see two things, at least. First, I want to see if Amon-Ra St. Brown can establish himself as a starter. I want to see him get a ton of targets in the preseason. He is my favorite wide receiver on the roster, and I believe he will become the best long-term prospect on this team, even if he's not the top target this year. St. Brown seems like the player best suited to start in the slot or solidify a role as the Z wide receiver. Secondly, I want to see who emerges as a top X wide receiver on the outside. Cephus, Perriman, or Williams are capable of doing so. Once one establishes that role, the dominos will fall and create more clarity at the other positions. The good news is that the Lions, more than almost any team, have nothing to hide and a lot to prove during preseason games. They have few players to try to protect and few schemes to attempt to vail. I hope there is some clarity because of these facts, but I question if we'll get a clear picture before week one. 

Baltimore Wide Receivers

  • Baltimore appears to see their need to improve their passing game if they intend to compete with the high-scoring Chiefs and Bills in the AFC. I assume they are finally planning to use Lamar Jackson's arm as much as his feet going forward, even though they will continue to be one of the run-heaviest teams. Baltimore has struck out on their wide receiver draft picks year after year, but they selected the very best wide receiver they've ever drafted this year in Rashod Bateman. He was one of my top-ranked rookies before the NFL draft but fell quite a bit in my rankings after landing in Baltimore. However, I didn't drop him as far as most dynasty analysts because I still believe he can elevate the Baltimore passing game with his talent. I believe Bateman will change the target shares in Baltimore by the end of this year, leading the team ahead of Mark Andrews and Marquise Brown. What I'm most eager to see this preseason, though I really believe it will take to midseason to discern, is if Baltimore will bump up their pass-to-run percentage to become more of the middle of the pack in the NFL. I hope the preseason will give us some indication of this as they experiment with more passing schemes. Baltimore may decide to play things closer to the vest this preseason, but I don't believe they can afford to do so. I'm eager to see if there are any signs of change this preseason.

Jacksonville Wide Receivers

  • Jacksonville's new head coach, Urban Meyer, is a complete mystery in the NFL. No one knows what his system will look like in the NFL. He inherited several talented players that he did not draft, and he drafted many offensive players, signed a lot of undrafted free agents, and signed free agent Marvin Jones. Marvin Jones, D.J. Chark, and Laviska Shenault appear to be the starting three receivers on paper, but everything is up in the air given the new coaching staff. The offense and every receiver should benefit from having Trevor Lawrence, the number one pick in the NFL draft, on the roster. That said, we don't know which receiver Lawrence will favor the most next year and in the years to come. This offseason, I have dropped Chark in my rankings while raising Shenault ahead of him. Jones is a falling dynasty asset but could very well be the highest scoring wide receiver in Jacksonville in the short term. Collin Jonson, Jalen Camp, and Josh Imatoebhebhe are size and athletic freaks. I would not be surprised at all to see one or more of them challenge for playing time on this roster. Some of these back-end wide receivers will be cut by the end of the preseason. I am eager to see which players make the team because I believe they will be very valuable back-of-the roster players to hold.

Washington Wide Receivers

  • All of the wide receivers in Washington should perform better this year under Ryan Fitzpatrick than they did last year under the leadership of Dwayne Haskins, Kyle Allen, and Alex Smith. Terry McLaurin is without a doubt the WR-1 on the team, but the WR-2 and WR-3 options are up in the air. Curtis Samuel has likely locked up the slot receiver role and will be used as the gadget wide receiver. But other pure wide receivers like Kelvin Harmon and rookie Dyami Brown could also earn significant roles with the team. Third-year receiver Kelvin Harmon, and second-year receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden, are far more talented than Steven Sims and Cam Sims, who have had considerable roles in the offense the last two years while Harmon and Gandy-Golden were injured. I'm most curious to see who can win a starting role between Harmon, Gandy-Golden, and Brown. Brown was my most drafted player this year in rookie drafts. He is the best big-play potential. Kelvin Harmon was my top-ranked rookie wide receiver in his rookie class before surprisingly falling to the sixth round in the NFL draft. I still believe in his talent, though he has been injured his first two years, and I have him on the roster bubble on many of my dynasty teams. I'm holding out hope that he can become a starter on this team. I want to watch to see if Brown is playing more of the Samuel role and thus will become his backup or if Brown can win a role starting as an outside receiver ahead of Harmon and Gandy-Golden. I hope we get enough news from camp and the preseason to help me decide it's time to drop Harmon or prove me right on my original film grade.

Indianapolis Tight Ends

  • Things may have changed drastically this week after news broke about Carson Wentz's foot injury, but I was very eager to see if one tight end could emerge as the top target in Indianapolis before this happened. Frank Riech's offensive system and Carson Wentz's history target the tight end often, so I was eager to see if Mo Allie-Cox or Jack Doyle would emerge as the clear starting tight end. Trey Burton ate into their time and stole a ton of goalline looks last season. Burton is no longer with the team, but the Colts did add an intriguing prospect, Kylen Granson, in the fourth round of the NFL draft. Could he become the new Trey Burton that quenches all tight end value in Indianapolis? Or, after years of experience, could Mo Allie-Cox become the next superstar tight end? These are the questions I hope to see answered this preseason. Unfortunately, with Carson Wentz out of the lineup indefinitely, I doubt we will get an answer to these questions. I am still going to pay attention to these position battles during the offseason to make the best decisions with bottom-of-the-roster guys come roster cut day. Indianapolis tight ends will all be on a tight rope on my rosters. Unless clarity comes, except for tight-end premium leagues, they could all get cut from my teams. I was expectant and hopeful that Allie-Cox will emerge as the starter, but with Wentz sidelined, it will be even more of a leap of faith to hold out hope.

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